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Meituan backs A.I. chip start-up as Chinese tech giants pour money into semiconductors

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China laid out seven “frontier” technologies in its 14th Five Year Plan. These are areas that China will focus research on and include semiconductors and brain-computer fusion.
Yuichiro Chino | Moment | Getty Images

Chinese artificial intelligence chip start-up Axera has raised 800 million yuan ($126 million) from investors including food delivery giant Meituan, as the country’s largest tech firms continue to pour money into semiconductors.

The funding round included a number of other investors including Qiming Venture Partners. The latest capital injection comes after Axera raised money just months ago in August, highlighting investor appetite in China’s semiconductor start-ups.

Beijing has made boosting self-sufficiency as well as research and development into semiconductors a top priority, with the country’s industry still relying heavily on foreign technology. Chips, which go into everything from smartphones to cars, are seen as strategically important by governments.

However, there is currently a global shortage of semiconductors causing a lack of supply of some consumer electronics products like games consoles.

The Chinese government’s focus on semiconductors has prompted the country’s tech giants to pour money into the space.

Last year, Tencent invested in Shanghai-headquartered Enflame Technology. Tencent also launched three of its own chips.

After setting up a standalone AI chip unit last year, Baidu launched the second generation of its AI semiconductor.

And e-commerce giant Alibaba took the wraps off its own piece of silicon designed to go into servers in a data center.

Food delivery giant Meituan is the latest big technology company to invest in a chip company with its backing of Axera.

Axera’s products are focused on AI chips for the field of computer vision. This relates to the way that computers can analyze and process large amounts of images and could be used in areas such as facial recognition. But this requires large amounts of computing power that can be aided by specialized computer vision chips.

The start-up has launched two chips since it was founded in May 2019. Axera says that its chips can be used in applications such as so-called smart cities and smart homes. The new funding will be put toward hiring talent and expanding the company’s business, Axera said.

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